Almost 100 weather balloons across the world will attempt to reach the edge of the atmosphere as part of the Global Space Balloon Challenge in two weeks.
The challenge — run by students from the University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — aims to excite people about science, technology, engineering and mathematics by introducing them to a hands-on but achievable project. Participants will release their balloons the weekend of April 18.
“Balloons are a good middle ground of technically challenging enough to be interesting and to produce interesting results and for people to learn something, but not so difficult that someone who hasn’t done this before couldn’t figure out how to do it,” said Stanford student Robert Jackson, the projects team lead for the Stanford Student Space Initiative, which started the challenge.
After teams launch their balloons, they will send in their data and photographs to be judged. The highest altitude category is straightforward, with the highest altitude winning, but best design and experiment will be judged by industry experts. The photo finalists will be judged through social media channels.
High altitude balloons, or space balloons, are large weather balloons that can rise up to 120,000 feet into the air. From there, space balloons can be used for a variety of reasons. The challenge will offer prizes for highest altitude, best design, best photograph and best experiment.
The challenge sets parameters for what the most basic launch should entail, including a weather balloon with a parachute and a radar reflector so that it is detectable by planes, a camera and a GPS locator.
“And then teams put in other things,” Jackson said. “Humidity sensors, temperature sensors, altitude sensors, wind speed, and then the projects get exponentially complex from there.”
While organizing GSBC is a collaborative effort between students at their respective schools, Engineering graduate student Nathan Hamet, the project lead for Michigan Balloon Recovery & Satellite Testbed, said it’s also a collaboration between every team participating. Organizers have set up a forum to let teams talk to each other to work out any kinks in the process.
“Not only are we able to give our knowledge to less experienced people, but the teams that have more experience in, let’s say, electrical engineering may be able to help us out with a problem,” Hamet said.